Oxytocin the ‘Trust Molecule’

Paul Zakon has been studying oxytocin for over 10 years, and in particular the relationship that the ‘trust hormone’ has with our moral behaviour.  He’s come to the conclusion that oxytocin is central to our sense of fair play – guiding our ability to trust others whilst controlling our natural inclination ‘not to be taken for a ride’.  He’s about to publish a book about oxytocin entitled ‘The Trust Molecule’, and in a recent article for the Wall Street Journal he explains why oxytocin is so important to trusting others and in building an ethcial society :

But there is a larger payoff from this research: After centuries of speculation about human nature and how we decide what is the right thing to do, we at last have some news we can use—empirical evidence that illuminates the mechanism at the heart of our moral guidance system. So what can we do to shift behavior a bit more toward the expression of oxytocin and thus improve the workings of our entire society?

The experiments I have conducted show that many group activities—singing, dancing, praying—cause the release of oxytocin and promote connection and caring. As social creatures, we have created activities that prompt the expression of oxytocin in order to foster connection to others. In fact, those who release the most oxytocin when they are trusted are happier and healthier because they have richer social lives.

Even the sort of “social snacking” that happens through Twitter or checking out a friend’s Facebook page can prompt an oxytocin surge. But the real criterion for success is whether these online activities complement more substantial personal connections. Does this form of communication foster human bonds or does it foster anonymity and abstraction to the point of cutting off empathy?